WR Chris Chambers (Donald Miralle/Getty)
Our Scout.com experts, Jon Scott of PatriotsInsider.com and Michael Lombardo of SDBoltReport.com, analyze Sunday's playoff game between the Patriots and Chargers at Gillette Stadium. Let's continue this series with six questions from Jon to Michael.
Jon Scott: Philip Rivers has played better in recent weeks as the team headed toward the postseason. What has changed about Rivers’ game?
Michael Lombardo: Rivers has played consistently well throughout the Chargers’ eight-game winning streak. During that time, he’s completed 133 of 214 passes (.621) for 1,656 yards, 14 TDs, five INTs and a passer rating of 98.2. He’s become more familiar with Norv Turner’s expanded playbook and more comfortable with Chris Chambers, who was acquired from the Miami Dolphins in Week 7.
Despite his personal progress, it has been improved play from the offensive line that has served as the catalyst for Rivers’ renaissance. In Week 12, Jeromey Clary stepped in for Shane Olivea at right tackle and C Nick Hardwick returned from a four-week absence after injuring his ankle – the Chargers have not lost since.
JS: How much of an impact has Chris Chambers had on the Chargers offense since San Diego traded for him?
ML: Chambers has impressed the Chargers since the minute GM A.J. Smith pulled the trigger on the deadline deal. Chambers has at least two catches in every game since joining the Chargers. His 44 catches since he joined the Bolts pace the team, as do his 16.9 ypc. He comes into the New England game hot, having scored three touchdowns in the last four games.
Chambers’ presence opens up the offense for other players. Teams cannot consistently drop eight and nine men in the box with Chambers and Antonio Gates making plays downfield. The extra attention given to Chambers also ensures single coverage for Vincent Jackson, who has exploded in the playoffs with 12 catches for 207 yards and two touchdowns.
JS: Obviously, injuries are a key to any team’s success. What is the impact of injuries on the Chargers?
ML: The big three injuries are on the offensive side of the ball. LaDainian Tomlinson is questionable after hyperextending his knee in the win over Indianapolis. He is listed as questionable but practiced this week and is expected to play. Norv Turner will mix in Michael Turner and Darren Sproles to limit Tomlinson’s snaps and maximize his effectiveness.
Philip Rivers is listed as doubtful but is expected to start. He has a sprained MCL in his left leg and a partially torn ACL in his right left. He took about one-third of the snaps on Friday and will give it a go on Sunday. It is a near certainty he will start the game but it is uncertain he’ll be able to finish it. His already sub-par mobility will be greatly compromised.
Antonio Gates has a real chance of missing the game, as he only worsened his dislocated toe by playing on it last week. Even if he does go, he’ll only play about 40 percent of the snaps and will be greatly limited in what he can do. Norv Turner would love to have him out there to draw attention if nothing else, but that ploy might not work after Gates proved to be little more than a decoy last week.
JS: Igor Olshansky had a little bit to say about the Patriots after the Chargers victory over the Colts. Is that just postgame adrenaline talking or is Olshansky prone to talking trash?
ML: Olshansky is absolutely prone to talking trash. He has called out the Denver Broncos for their cut-blocking scheme and lambasted the Tennessee Titans for their dirty play. Olshansky is a high-adrenaline player who plays with a great deal of emotion -- sometimes it comes out the wrong way when there’s a microphone in front of his face.
That being said, his comments were made 30 minutes after one of the biggest wins in Chargers history. He was extremely excited at the time and made a comment he otherwise would have kept to himself. However, he stands by his words and will have a chance to back them up against the most potent offense in NFL history.
JS: Did you expect the Chargers to beat the Colts last week? What was your original prediction for the game?
ML: No, I expected the Chargers to keep things close but for Peyton Manning to pull out the win in the fourth quarter. Manning had a couple of opportunities but the San Diego defense rose to the occasion. It will take a similarly Herculean effort by the defense to pull off a second monumental upset in as many weeks.
JS: Philip Rivers was called out by the media for doing too much trash talking. Is that just a sign of Philip’s competitiveness or is it a maturity issue in your mind?
ML: I believe it is just Rivers being competitive. Like Olshansky, Rivers is an emotional player who lets it all hang out once he steps between the lines. He has been caught taunting Jay Cutler, encouraging the fans in Oakland and jawing with the hecklers in Indianapolis. The thing is, he played well in all of those games and the Chargers came out victorious every time. If he continues to play like he has over the last eight weeks, the Chargers will let him talk until he is blue in the face.
It is funny that Tom Brady can go helmet to helmet with Anthony Smith and the whole world gets a kick out of it. But Rivers opens his mouth and all of a sudden he is immature. I don’t buy it and neither do Rivers’ teammates.
Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. He has followed the Chargers for more than 14 years and covered the team since 2003.